Ford South Africa has welcomed an FX4 double-cab derivative to its Ranger line-up and, apart from offering unique styling elements, the newcomer introduces a nifty connectivity feature – FordPass Connect. Cars.co.za journalist Gero Lilleike travelled to the Wild Coast to experience the Ranger FX4 in the metal.
Ford is on a roll! Earlier this month, the brand announced a massive R15.8-million investment in its local operation that will see significant upgrades made to its Silverton production facility ahead of the production of the all-new Ranger, as well as the all-new Volkswagen Amarok (which is based on the Blue Oval's next-gen bakkie), both of which are due for local release around 2023, perhaps sooner.
As the current-gen Ranger nears the end of its product lifecycle, Ford has been quite eager to capitalise on strong demand for uniquely-styled and kitted-out leisure double-cabs. As such, Ford has been rolling out a number of upgraded Ranger derivatives that cater for various budgets and, based on the market uptake, this strategy is creating a win-win situation, not only for the brand – customers too.
Just a few months ago, Ford South Africa introduced the Ranger Thunder (based on the Ranger Wildtrak) and then, towards the end of 2020, followed it up with the launch of the Ranger XL Sport (based on the Ranger XL), which catered for the high- and low ends of the Ranger’s customer base respectively.
Now, with the introduction of the new Ranger FX4 (based on the Ranger XLT), the Blue Oval is looking to satisfy the needs of buyers who would ordinarily be interested in middle-of-the-range derivatives in the bakkie line-up. The FX4 nameplate first arrived on the local market in 2017 (pre-facelift) and this latest Ranger FX4 is bound to resonate with local buyers too.
What’s on offer?
The Ranger FX4 gains a few extra styling features. Note the extended-leg sports bar which is a key defining feature.
The FX4 is all about maximum kerb-appeal, hence it comes festooned with unique styling features that set it apart from the rest of the Ranger line-up. Black detailing is the running theme here: compared with the XLT, the FX4 features an additional black mesh grille (similar to the Ranger Thunder), larger 18-inch multi-spoke black alloy wheels, black door handles and an extended tubular sports bar.
A drop-in load-bed liner is also included, along with a 12V socket and a total of 6 tie-down points in the back. FX4 badging on the tailgate and along the side of the bakkie further reinforce the newcomer's identity. With the above styling enhancements in mind, the Ranger FX4 is offered in a choice of 4 colours: Sea Grey, Frozen White, Race Red, Agate Black and Moondust Silver.
As for the interior, leather trim (with embossed FX4 badging) is standard, while red contrast stitching features on the seats, steering wheel, transmission lever and on the leather-look upper dashboard.
What’s it like to drive?
The Ranger FX4 is as capable off-road as it is on the tar. Definitely one of the most comfortable offerings in this segment.
The Ranger FX4 is powered by Ford’s proven 2.0-litre, single-turbocharged diesel engine that develops 132 kW and 420 Nm of torque and is exclusively mated with a 10-speed automatic transmission.
We’ve experienced this locally-made engine before (in the Ranger XLT) when it was introduced in 2019 and it delivers good mid-range acceleration and an admirable balance of performance and economy in conjunction with Ford’s 10-speed automatic transmission. The claimed average fuel consumption figure for the Ranger FX4 is 7.5 L/100 km and the newcomer is available in 4x2 and 4x4 guises.
The Ranger FX4 launch took place south of Port St Johns in the Eastern Cape. If you have ever been to this beautiful part of the country, you will know that a 4x4 is the ideal vehicle with which to traverse the rugged rural dirt roads of the area. The Ranger FX4 made light work of this terrain; not even the worst rain-rutted road could unsettle Ford's stalwart of a bakkie.
One of the traits we have always liked about the Ranger is how solid and planted it feels on rugged terrain. It’s a comfortable off-roader with a light and effortless steering feel, which contributes to a pleasant, fuss-free driving experience. Could it be that after all these years on the market (almost a decade), Ford's bakkie still offers the best compromise between on-road comfort and off-road ability?
Meanwhile, FordPass Connect is the only notable technical upgrade to the Ranger FX4. This new connectivity feature is also standard on the bakkie's XL, XLS, XLT, Wildtrak and Raptor derivatives.
FordPass. What’s that?
FordPass Connect allows for remote control of your Ford vehicle and puts vital information at your fingertips, all via your smartphone.
Access to FordPass starts by downloading the FordPass app to your smartphone. Once a Ford vehicle (such as a Ranger produced from 2017 onwards) has been successfully registered on the app, owners will have immediate access to warranty and maintenance information, the ability to search for Ford dealers in the vicinity, as well as fuel stations and even parking spaces.
However, the full potential of FordPass Connect can only be accessed when you pair the FordPass app with the FordPass Connect modem, which is installed in these latest Ranger derivatives (such as the FX4). This pairing unlocks a number of remote command and control functions such as starting the engine, locking and unlocking of doors, pre-priming the interior climate control, finding the exact location of the vehicle, booking of services (and keeping track of past ones), as well as providing key vehicle information such as fuel level and oil life. The vehicle's Owner’s Manual is also easily accessible.
Our initial impressions of FordPass Connect are positive. The app was easy to use; vehicle registration and pairing is a straightforward process and the remote control functions are useful. This level of connectivity is unheard of in the bakkie segment and this development clearly points to a future in which a person’s engagement and involvement with their vehicle is enhanced with the help of technology.
In isolation, FordPass Connect might appear to be a tad gimmicky, but in the context of Ford’s recent undertaking to run Google software in the next-generation Ranger as of 2023 as well as the brand’s recently-announced commitment to electrification, it's a crucial one. Ford’s goal is to achieve 66% commercial vehicle sales attributed to full-electric or hybrid vehicles by 2030. What that means exactly in a South African context remains to be seen, but it’s reasonable to expect a hybrid and even a full-electric Ranger in the future, even though it might still take a few more years to reach our market.
FordPass Connect is therefore but a cog in the machine of Ford’s journey towards a more connected future and it will be interesting to see how this technology develops over time and how rivalling brands will respond with their own technologies in the commercial-vehicle space, which of course they will. For now, however, Ford seems to be leading the charge in terms of connectivity in the bakkie space.
With the Ford-Volkswagen tie-up done and dusted, the next Amarok may very well reap the benefits of this technology too...
Ford Ranger FX4 Price in South Africa (February 2021)
2.0 Single Turbo Double Cab XLT FX4 10AT 4x2 R618 900
2.0 Single Turbo Double Cab XLT FX4 10AT 4x4 R687 900